Yesterday’s confirmation hearing for David Friedman, Trump’s choice to become ambassador to Israel, in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, was expected to be a wild and woolly affair. And it was, with the proceedings interrup
ted by various and sundry protesters, Palestinians and Jews, who expressed unhappiness toward Friedman’s famously vociferous views on Middle East affairs and those who disagree with them. Said views were also the focus of senatorial questioning of the bankruptcy lawyer turned would-be diplomat:
New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall detailed many of the insults Friedman had hurled in print before being selected for the ambassadorial role.
“He has insulted and denigrated members of the Senate,” Udall said. He quoted Friedman’s comment about senior Democratic New York Sen. Charles Schumer, after Democratic colleagues voted to approve the Iran nuclear deal, that “Schumer is validating the worst appeasement of terrorism since Munich,” where Palestinian terrorists killed Israeli athletes at the Olympic Games.
Udall also said that Friedman had “slandered” President Barack Obama when he described “the blatant anti-Semitism emanating from our president and his sycophantic minions.”
And he pointed out that Friedman once said of the Anti-Defamation League that “frankly, they sound like morons.”
And those were not even the worst of Friedman’s slurs. The worst would probably be his description of American Jews who oppose his right-wing positions on Israeli-Palestinian affairs as “worse than kapos — Jews who turned in their fellow Jews in the Nazi death camps.”
Now Friedman wants senators to disregard all those words because after all they were uttered in the heat of a presidential campaign:
Some of the language that I used during the highly charged presidential campaign that ended last November has come in for criticism and rightfully so. While I maintain profound differences of opinion with some of my critics, I regret the use of such language.
Actually, his extremist views predated the presidential campaign, and as the Israeli newspaper Haaretz pointed out, the attacks on liberal Jews continued well after the election. But it is interesting to note that this line of defense is becoming common for the Trump administration. Just yesterday, the Justice Department (in a brief filed with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals notifying judges the administration would release a new travel ban order next week) argued strenuously against judicial consideration of Trump’s talk about banning Muslims on the campaign trail in interpreting his actions as president. Candidate Trump was just a “private citizen” who was exercising his First Amendment rights to express what sure sounded like religious bigotry. Presumably Friedman’s profanation of the Holocaust and scurrilous attacks on Americans and Israelis alike would fall under the same exemption for campaign demagoguery.
While Friedman had plenty of time to prepare his “so sorry about the demagoguery” defense, he had to be more nimble in dealing with the fallout from Trump’s strange remarks during his press conference earlier this week with Bibi Netanyahu. As you may recall, Trump seemed to express shrugging indifference to the central question of pursuing a one-state or two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Friedman retracted his prior violent opposition to the two-state solution that has been the cornerstone of U.S. policy for decades, but wisely hedged his bets. Who knows what Trump really meant, or what he will say next on this topic?
But even though Trump complicated his intended envoy’s confirmation hearing with his latest comments, he more than made up for it by completely diverting attention from the Friedman event with his own 80-minute press conference. Who’s going to watch a sideshow when the Greatest Show on Earth is underway just across town?